Sunday, 31 July 2016

REVIEW - JASON BOURNE (PAUL GREENGRASS)


Lightning struck twice for Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon in the last decade, at a time when the general public (or at least I) was more conducive to the gritty appeal of the Bourne franchise. Their return to the fray comes at a new time, made cringeworthily obvious by repeated references, as the duo, aided by editor and now co-writer Christopher Rouse, attempts to attract another bolt of inspiration from the movie gods. Jason Bourne marks only such an attempt, however, and not one in the direction of actual effort; this is a team of filmmakers resting on their laurels, and while the film thus highlights the innate, if waning, quality of those laurels, it feels lazy and redundant. It additionally feels sadly stale - politically and artistically, 2007 was a rather different time. Even still, Jason Bourne might have overcame some of these unavoidable issues were it not blighted by more, entirely of its own volition. Aside from the usual chase narrative, this is a film in which the protagonist seems largely disassociated from the events that drive it, whether he's playing catch-up with details we already know (or have gleaned - you'll see every twist coming), at the behest of plot threads established and almost entirely concerning other characters, or engaged in action with figures whose importance is rarely properly developed. Bourne himself is a supporting player here, and Damon responds with a tired performance. Rouse may be to blame for some of the film's dreadful dialogue in several laughable exposition scenes, but his editing is as sharp as ever. And it's thus that Jason Bourne is, ultimately, redeemed from its mistakes: the also unavoidable talent of its creators. Greengrass, Rouse and stunt pros Gary Powell and Roger Yuan can still work the hell out of an action sequence, upon the likes of which this franchise lives or dies. In the end, Bourne lives to fight again, but one can't help but wonder if he's on his last legs.

Friday, 29 July 2016

REVIEW - MEN & CHICKEN (ANDERS THOMAS JENSEN)


A self-consciously quirky Danish comedy that seems to promise only hammy puerility, Men & Chicken ultimately proves its worth as a feature, if only in comparison to initial expectation. Well-acted and benefitting from punchy dialogue and a fitfully engaging, if predictable, plot, it's a cut above its cinematic kin in aiming for several cuts below and somehow succeeding. Anders Thomas Jensen markets himself here as a childish provocateur, but sells himself as a decent filmmaker, making a thoroughly indecent film. And if you're wholly prepared for the additional strain of subtextual social commentary, you're perhaps not so prepared for the keenness of Jensen's observations, even if he never stretches himself in the complexity of what he intends to say. Men & Chicken stays true to its off-colour comedic tendencies throughout, indeed only adds insult to injury in this regard (in the worst taste yet to largely good effect), and never truly evolves into a work of artistic or philosophical significance; its improvements are made only as the integrity of Jensen's tonal tastelessness becomes more apparent, and as the film settles into its identity as a beautifully ugly work of low art. Its finest attributes are mostly mitigated by the obviousness of its premise, the self-awareness of the execution of that premise, and the limitations of Jensen's straightforward mise-en-scene, but they're never utterly erased. What exists in this film is a modest success on its own terms, and thus a great deal more than it promises to be.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

REVIEW - CHEVALIER (ATHINA RACHEL TSANGARI)


A Greek New Wave film that, finally, has some relation to reality. Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier may lack the distinctiveness of her former work, and that of her national filmmaking compatriots, but it's in possession of a winning combination of incisiveness and affability, giving it warmth and depth in equal measure. A satirical lambaste of masculinity in the damage it wreaks upon itself, this caustic comedy recognizes its male characters' inescapable tenure to society in general - a society that is, alas, designed by the man for the benefit of his other men - just as their boat maintains its ties to the mainland dock. With a strong ensemble over nine roles, Tsangari examines the nature of masculinity and its manifestations in every available aspect, with results that are pleasantly predictable alongside those that are quite the opposite. Naturally, absurdity and bleakness define much of what these men do, and much of what we make of it, but Tsangari never capitulates to these such specific temptations. The absurd quality is attained organically, through her ever-objective gaze upon actions that may feel normal to their perpetrators, but certainly don't appear normal to their audience. And that normalcy is threaded throughout Chevalier, helping to uphold the crucial detail of keeping these unbelievable acts entirely believable in context. It's only out of context, in the filmmaker's aforesaid objectivity, that her satire truly takes shape. As such, Chevalier remains a somewhat shapeless film, one which might have reaped greater rewards from indulging in those temptations - it's arguably at its best in its more immediately engaging, occasionally graphic moments. It's a fine line that is walked here between reality and absurdity, however, and one which this film largely walks well.

VENICE LINEUP ANNOUNCED: ARRIVAL, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, VOYAGE OF TIME IN THE MIX


The Venice Film Festival has revealed its full slate of screeners for its 73rd edition, following the announcement of the Venice Days selection. Major American titles such as Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals (both starring Amy Adams), Damien Chazelle's fest opener La La Land, Pablo Larrain's Jackie Kennedy biopic Jackie - his second major festival competition entry of the year, following Neruda, which showed at Cannes - and Terrence Malick's IMAX documentary Voyage of Time make the cut. Alongside those buzzed-about features are plenty from esteemed international auteurs such as Andrey Konchalovskiy with Paradise, Wim Wenders with The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez, and Lav Diaz with The Woman Who Left - another director debuting a second film in competition at a top fest, following his 8-hour Berlin prize winner A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery. Plenty of promise in the other strands too! Check it all out below:

Venezia 73
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour)
The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez (Wim Wenders)
Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven)
El Ciudadano Ilustre (Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat)
El Cristo Ciego (Christopher Murray)
Frantz (Francois Ozon)
Jackie (Pablo Larrain)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle) - opening film
The Light Between Oceans (Derek Cianfrance)
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
On the Milky Road (Emir Kusturica)
Paradise (Andrey Konhcalovskiy)
Piuma (Roan Johnson)
Questi Giorni (Giuseppe Piccioni)
La Region Salvaje (Amat Escalante)
Spira Mirabilis (Massimo d'Anolfi and Martina Parenti)
Une Vie (Stephane Brize)
Voyage of Time (Terrence Malick)
The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)

Orizzonti
500,000 Years (Chai Siris)
Amalimbo (Juan Pablo Libossart)
Big Big World (Reha Erdem)
Bitter Money (Wang Bing)
Boys in the Trees (Nicholas Verso)
Ce Qui Nous Eloigne (Hu Wei)
Colombi (Luca Ferri)
Dadyaa (Bibhusan Basnet and Pooja Gurung)
Dark Night (Tim Sutton)
Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison)
Die Einsiedler (Ronny Trocker)
First Night (Andrei Tanase)
Good Luck, Orlo! (Sara Kern)
Good News (Giovanni Fumu)
Gukoroku (Ishikawa Kei)
Home (Fien Troch)
Kekszakallu (Gaston Solnicki)
King of the Belgians (Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth)
Liberami (Federica di Giacomo)
Malaria (Parviz Shahbazi)
Maudine Poutine (Karl Lemieux)
Midwinter (Jake Mahaffy)
Molly Bloom (Chiara Caselli)
On the Origin of Fear (Bayu Prihantoro Filemon)
Il Piu Grande Sogno (Michele Vannucci)
Reparer les Vivants (Katell Quillevere)
Le Reste est l'Oeuvre de l'Homme (Doria Achour)
Ruah (Flurin Giger)
Samedi Cinema (Mamadou Dia)
Sao Jorge (Marco Martins)
Stanza 52 (Maurizio Braucci)
Tarde para la Ira (Raul Arevalo)
Through the Wall (Rama Burshtein)
La Voz Perdida (Marcelo Martinessi)
White Sun (Deepak Rauniyar)

Take a look below the cut for La Biennale's other sidebars, including some hotly-anticipated world premieres showing out of competition:

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

REVIEW - THE BFG (STEVEN SPIELBERG)


Real magic happens when you're not looking. Turn your attention to the trick, and that magic is lost - though we think we want to know, we never truly do. You likely weren't looking for, nor expecting, real movie magic when you sat down to your favourite film, the one most likely to evoke a sense of satisfaction and nostalgia in your memory. Steven Spielberg trades in this stuff regularly, and herein lies the issue: he wants to evoke those same senses in his audience, but the production of nostalgia relies upon the reproduction of an experience in the mind, and it's impossible to reproduce an experience in the same moment in which it's occurring. Thus, The BFG, which is so overtly an attempt to actively produce nostalgia, comes across more as a magic trick with all the sleight of hand made manifest in its every movement, rather than the real movie magic to which it aspires. The technique is strong, the execution stronger still, but the purpose is corrupt. The film is better when it lays off the wonder and whimsy, and hones in on character. A most British film in style and tone when dialogue takes over, here is where this most American director finds his feet. The BFG exploits the charm of Roald Dahl's prose and the skill of actor Mark Rylance to create a work that's as affable and heartwarming as it's intended to be. It's a broad comedy adventure in the mould of a dramatic family film, and boldly commits to its wholesome British eccentricity. Spielberg's regular collaborators turn in smart work, from Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg's lovely production design to John Williams' score, one of his best in recent years.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES FIRST BATCH OF 2016 FILMS


Here's your first gander at the films most intent upon scoring with the awards ceremony set to arrive later this year, and a few others, simply content with the raise in profile that an appearance at a major international festival provides. The Toronto International Film Festival takes place between the 8th and the 18th of September this year, and will serve as a launching pad for many of the year's most popular films, no doubt, not least given the sheer number of world premieres in the below lists. It's a big fest, so this big list - comprising Galas and Special Presentations (and likely not even all of them) - will only get bigger over the coming days and/or weeks, with further strands being announced. Take a look at the lot below:

Galas
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
Deepwater Horizon (Peter Berg)
The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig) - closing night film
The Headhunter's Calling (Mark Williams)
The Journey Is the Destination (Bronwen Hughes)
JT + the Tennessee Kids (Jonathan Demme)
LBJ (Rob Reiner)
Lion (Garth Davis)
Loving (Jeff Nichols)
The Magnificent Seven (Antoine Fuqua) - opening night film
A Monster Calls (J. A. Bayona)
Planetarium (Rebecca Zlotowski)
Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair)
The Rolling Stones Ole Ole Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America (Paul Dugdale)
The Secret Scripture (Jim Sheridan)
Snowden (Oliver Stone)
Strange Weather (Katherine Dieckmann)
Their Finest (Lone Scherfig)
A United Kingdom (Amma Asante)

Special Presentations
The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee Woon)
All I See Is You (Marc Forster)
American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor)
Asura: The City of Madness (Kim Sung Soo)
Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh)
Barry (Vikram Gandhi)
Birth of the Dragon (George Nolfi)
The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker)
Bleed for This (Ben Younger)
Blue Jay (Alex Lehmann)
Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven)
BrOTHERHOOD (Noel Clarke)
Carrie Pilby (Susan Johnson)
Catfight (Oner Tukel)
City of Tiny Lights (Pete Travis)
The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg)
Daguerrotype (Kurosawa Kiyoshi)
A Death in the Gunj (Konkona Sensharma)
Denial (Mick Jackson)
Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
Foreign Body (Raja Amari)
Frantz (Francois Ozon)
The Handmaiden (Park Chan Wook)
Harmonium (Fukada Koji)
I Am Not Madame Bovary (Feng Xiao Gang)
The Journey (Nick Hamm)
King of the Dancehall (Nick Cannon)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
The Limehouse Golem (Juan Carlos Medina)
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Mascots (Christopher Guest)
Maudie (Aisling Walsh)
Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
The Oath (Baltasar Kormakur)
Orphan (Arnaud des Pallieres)
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola)
Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)
Salt and Fire (Werner Herzog)
Sing (Garth Jennings)
Souvenir (Bavo Defurne)
Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Love)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
Trespass Against Us (Adam Smith)
Una (Benedict Andrews)
Unless (Alan Gilsenan)
The Wasted Times (Chang Er)

WOMEN AT THE FORE IN 2016 VENICE DAYS SELECTION


The Venice Days section, an unofficial sidebar of the Venice Film Festival, has announced its screenings for its 2016 edition. Films from female directors are given special prominence in this year's lineup, with 7 of the 19 titles hailing from women. The competition entries here will compete for the Venice Days award, worth €20,000, with the top prize decided upon by a jury presided over by Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce - certain to produce an interesting result! Additionally, there will be an audience award for the section, and the several first works in the selection will also be eligible for the Luigi de Laurentiis award, which covers all of the festival's strands. Venice Days' 12th edition will take place between the 31st of August and the 10th of September. Check out their choices below:

Competition
Guilty Men (Ivan D. Gaona)
Heartstone (Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson)
Hounds of Love (Ben Young)
Indivisible (Edoardo de Angelis)
Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy Jr.)
Polina (Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj)
The Road to Mandalay (Midi Z.)
Quit Staring at My Plate (Hana Jusic)
Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell)
The War Show (Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon) - opening film
Worldly Girl (Marco Danieli)

Women's Tales Project
Seed (Kawase Naomi)
That One Day (Crystal Moselle)

Special Events
Always Shine (Sophia Takal)
Coffee (Cristiano Bortone)
Il Profumo del Tempo delle Favole (Mauro Caputo)
Rocco (Thierry Demaiziere and Alban Teurlai)
Vangelo (Pippo Delbono)
You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski (Matteo Borgardt)

REVIEW - STAR TREK BEYOND (JUSTIN LIM)


The first, last and strongest feeling one detects in Star Trek Beyond is one of liberation. Free from the fanboy-baiting wankery of predecessor Star Trek Into Darkness, this refreshed franchise ironically returns to the kind of quaint charms that once built such a fervent fanbase. Granted, there was always something slightly ropey about both the design and the execution of even these modern editions, but Beyond may be the first in a long time to truly embrace its inferiority in a landscape dominated by mega-blockbusters and their expanded cinematic universes. If the mistakes of the previous film are corrected, though, this film acquires some of its own - it's fitfully entertaining, but never the breathtaking thrill-ride it aspires to be. Justin Lim directs with a lack of visual imagination, and perhaps even a curious bewilderment in the action scenes; a Fast & Furious veteran, you'll not see much of his usual aptitude for action in this film's cluttered, incoherent setpieces. That same lack of imagination extends into Beyond's scenario, arguably even originating from it, as Doug Jung and Simon Pegg's script offers little more than the same old storylines. If that's what allows the film to recapture some of the old Star Trek spirit, it also prevents it from venturing, well, beyond it. It's all distinctly average and predictable; thus, one's attention is drawn to whatever standout details it can find. The makeup effects are quite spectacular! Michael Giacchino's score is typically magisterial! Sofia Boutella really cannot act! Shame, but aren't they all having fun? A little more liberation, and then maybe I'll be having fun too.

OBIT - MARNI NIXON


Arguably the most recognizable film star with only three visible appearances on screen, legendary vocalist Marni Nixon has died. She had breast cancer and was 86, and passed on Sunday the 24th of July. Contracted as a replacement for the singer hired to dub Deborah Kerr's voice for the musical numbers in the 1956 classic The King and I after the first singer's sudden death, Nixon's career took off with this high-profile appointment. You couldn't quite say she shot to fame, however; the studio refused her a credit and threatened to kick her out of Hollywood should anyone ever find out that it was her voice, not Kerr's, on the soundtrack. But her screen credits racked up from there: An Affair to Remember, again dubbing for Kerr, West Side Story for Natalie Wood, and My Fair Lady for Audrey Hepburn. She appeared in The Sound of Music in a brief role as Sister Sophia, and can be heard on the soundtracks to Disney animated films Cinderella and Mulan. Quite an estimable resume, one which Nixon justly exploited to good end with a successful career on the stage following her experiences in film. Married three times, including to Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold, Nixon is survived by her three children, Andrew, Martha and Melanie.

Monday, 25 July 2016

REVIEW - MARGUERITE & JULIEN (VALERIE DONZELLI)


A bold, thoughtless experimental work from a director who might have taken the care to test her experiments out beforehand were she a smarter stylist. Valerie Donzelli runs on ambition and intuition alone in Marguerite & Julien; ideas and inspiration abound, but mostly untethered to any particular tenet of the film's core concerns. Even where one detects some degree of connection between concept (the multitudinous anachronistic details) and purpose (evoking a sense of timelessness in the love story), one does not detect any similar degree of substance to the connection - it's juvenile and lacking proper form. The film exists on no solid ground, an exercise in flimsy silliness - there's a soap opera quality to the controversial plot and its melodrama-courting extremities of emotion, though bereft of the spectacular commitment that many such soaps or telenovelas invest in service of their storylines, Donzelli thus betrays the very nature of her project. Rather, it often seems like the loose, frantic daydreams of a romantic adolescent, with even the awkward half-heartedness of a teenager's uneducated embrace of sexuality. In this regard, Donzelli truly strikes a miss: Marguerite & Julien is pure taboo, suffused with salacity from start to finish. Here, the taboo is broken early and often, though generally only in theory, or in indirect discussion. The openness negates the essential scandalousness of the subject by largely not following through on it, instead leaving it unacknowledged, thereby failing either to maintain the taboo (and so fatally dismantling the controversiality) or to deconstruct it (and so perpetuating it). Points for trying something different, though the actual act of 'trying' is in dispute.

Friday, 22 July 2016

REVIEW - WEINER (JOSH KRIEGMAN AND ELYSE STEINBERG)


If a week is a long time in politics, you'd hope that Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's detail of New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's 2013 election campaign would keep things moving: the timeframe here is eight weeks! Luckily, Weiner is a fast-paced film indeed, hurtling through the infamous, incendiary, incredible events of this period, chronicling the politician's brief, redemptive rise from public humiliation, and then his extraordinary, prolonged meltdown. It's a most sensational, salacious story, one of enormous peaks and gargantuan troughs in Weiner's circumstances; the kind of thing you probably could make up, but just wouldn't. The momentum, whether positive or negative, of the campaign is captured perfectly in the snappy editing, thus keeping Weiner buoyant and involving; better, though, than its sheer speed is the artistry contained within this relentless forward motion. Editor Eli B. Despres has a real feeling for the construction of mood and tone through his process, both matching and accentuating the piquant emotional and political observations in Kriegman and Steinberg's probing direction. Tension and excitement bubble up through the mania, and cheeky black comedy is knowingly purveyed, with even the film's more sympathetic figures not immune to being targeted. Still, Weiner is a thoroughly light affair - lighthearted and lightweight, an unexpected piece of popcorn entertainment that's perhaps unambitious, but certainly put together with skill and perceptiveness.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

REVIEW - NED'S PROJECT (LEMUEL LORCA)


It's easy to see how a film so slight as Ned's Project could be pulled up, or dragged down by the slightest of shifts. The film is compassionate, to its benefit, and tasteful, to a fault; it's a gentle, sensitive, somewhat soapy drama, content enough in its adequacy that it seems not to even care to court such a shift, thus allowing for one accidental shift upward, and at least two downward. You, the viewer, might not be so content, begging for a meaningful change in tone or topic, albeit appreciative of the film's lulling simplicity, only to find yourself appalled at the eventual choice of change. A crucial plot development in the final act marks a major misjudgement, one that virtually nullifies the impact of other, more mildly problematic points in the depiction of the LGBT lifestyle, itself excusable given the national context. Ned's Project is a wholly inoffensive film until it lands a most offensive blow. That and a chintzy, intrusive score make for regrettable shifts downward; lifting the film back up, from first moment to last, is Angeli Bayani and her superb performance. This is the kind of work that earns legendary status in the right circumstances, and rightfully so; it's the perfect synergy of elements, from Bayani's incisive understanding of character, to her commitment to emotional expressiveness, to her absolute physical embodiment, to her resolute adherence to naturalism even with the more intense material. As tepid as the film around her may be, and as toxic as it may become, Bayani alone elevates Ned's Project and makes of it a genuinely worthwhile watch. Alas, in almost every other regard, this film requires a great deal more elevation to come even close to matching her.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

REVIEW - MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (JIA ZHANG KE)


A subtle reconstruction of Jia Zhang Ke's artistic signatures, though not a repurposing of them, Mountains May Depart is at once his most direct and most indirect portrait of modern China. A typically penetrating, profound work, Jia again presents his inquiries as thesis; few of his peers are so skilled in the process of utilizing identifiable realities for their subtextual import. We see the world as it truly is - both from a recognizable perspective and from a new, altogether more incisive perspective. If politics shape these realities as we perceive them, Jia exploits reality for political purpose, and always with the smoothest, softest of touches. In Mountains May Depart, reality is ironically foregrounded amid a bold lurch in the direction of melodrama. Finally, a picture of people that puts the people first, though Jia's usual (and ever-welcome) focus on expressive imagery and socio-geographical significance remains a premier apparatus in his ideological efforts. In this, Jia falters - the stories he tells harbour expected heft, both emotionally and metaphorically, and they're performed with marvellous grace and sensitivity by the ensemble cast, but they're often plodding and didactic. This is a most earnest, unaware melodrama, in the service of something admirable, but too rarely admirable in its own right. Only in the end, as all of Jia's political, humanistic, stylistic and narrative concerns come together in a brilliant final scene, does Mountains May Depart reveal its true worth. For all its flaws, this film remains indubitably the product of a master artist's ever-expanding mind.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

REVIEW - MAGGIE'S PLAN (REBECCA MILLER)


Culture is an ever-changing concept. Who we are today may not be who we are tomorrow, and thus the culture around us shifts as we do. It is a representation of a collective group of people, separate, though not exclusive, societal sections defining and perusing their separate cultural characteristics, and defining them further in this perusal. For our art to reflect our culture might qualify as mere flattery, but it's often a most welcome, valuable form of flattery. There comes a point, however, where such reflections become so numerous they simply only reflect themselves; such is the solipsism of America's cultural elite that has largely abandoned the pursuit of defining their culture through intelligence and innovation, instead turning in on themselves to reflect, represent and recover the same old subjects ad infinitum. Resultantly, Maggie's Plan is as much a hit in the accuracy of its representation, and indeed in the intelligence that can't be entirely suppressed in its making, as it is a dud in the familiarity of its representation, and the insufferable smugness that can't be at all avoided. Rebecca Miller's cheeky, quasi-ironic touch may once have seemed fresh in this now-overstuffed indie sub-genre, but it's yet another overused aspect of its identity, and its duplicitousness is especially offensive in this film. We're supposed to enjoy Maggie's Plan's cliches, then admire its makers for exposing them, then ignore the fact that they're still insistent upon employing them for our enjoyment nonetheless. It's supercilious, and it's one of a number of qualities that detracts from the enduring positive attributes herein. The dialogue is varying levels of sharp, including exactly the right level at times, and there's a charming performance from Julianne Moore. You may find it tough to recall these details, however; this is run-of-the-mill self-aggrandizement from premier purveyors of culture, falling asleep on yet another job.

Monday, 18 July 2016

REVIEW - THE NEON DEMON (NICOLAS WINDING REFN)


'Pure cinema' is all very well, but it's what a filmmaker makes of such a model that makes their product more than that: very good. If Only God Forgives proved that Nicolas Winding Refn isn't very good at making anything of this model, yet is very good at the making of the model itself, here comes The Neon Demon to prove that he's not very good at finding anything to make of it anyway. It's a lacklustre fumble for a purpose that entirely eludes him, a misguided attempt at furthering his artistic agenda whilst proving himself to those who'd lambaste that agenda in its essence. The Neon Demon opens promisingly, with a seductive sequence that is pure style, if not 'pure cinema.' It's once Winding Refn wishes to use this style to actually say something that the film begins to falter; the insistent virtue of that style sustains interest, even if it's over-insistently applied, and frequently unfocused - an intersection between fashion editorial and cinematic art piece, the visuals often only emulate either, rather than replicating both. And our interest demands a whole lot more sustenance still - the point of true pulp is in the payoff, even if that payoff isn't of the expected nature. The Neon Demon pays up too little, too late, otherwise necessitating its audience to settle into material that repels the very intention of settling. It's a most stunning sheen to this slipperiest of surfaces, but it's of negligible value if it's not built upon something truly substantial. In quantity, if not in quality, the promise isn't met, not even by an unexpected payoff as opposed to an expected one. Sex and violence constitute key characteristics of the substance of pulp, and they're simply denied us too long in The Neon Demon. And it'd make for an impressive piece of 'pure cinema' were Winding Refn not so determined to find something to make of it. It's a shallow film, and only given that it appears uneasy with its shallowness, so too are we.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

REVIEW - ZERO DAYS (ALEX GIBNEY)


Alex Gibney finds the ideal outlet for his perennial style of sober, steady doom-mongering, in a story about something that may legitimately yield nothing less than doom itself. International governmental conspiracies! Covert technological war! Nuclear annihilation! It's all very abstract and absurd-sounding when examined objectively, but the essential point of Zero Days is to discourage such an analysis - covert or not, this stuff is the stuff of our daily lives, and ignorance is no excuse. With typical extreme subjectivity, and equally typical thoroughness, Gibney outlines enough detail to make a placated public quake, if only for the length of this documentary's running time. Whatever your take on the real-world seriousness of this suspiciously secretive subject - the Stuxnet virus - its specific seriousness in this context is virtually inarguable, and thus a most arresting synergy is created between topic and treatment. Gibney is as didactic as usual, and thankfully so; if he's perhaps too blunt at times, one might attribute this to personal interpretation, and appreciate that Zero Days has an obligation to total clarity for the whole of its audience. That audience would be wise to pay attention, however, and here is where the film slacks in its obligations: it doesn't afford its viewers any such slack room, and its density is a potential drawback. But its urgency is palpable, and perfectly communicated via an attention to detail that is surely remarkable given the difficulty Gibney evidently had in obtaining the information he required.

LOCARNO 2016: PROGRAMME ANNOUNCED


The lineup has been revealed for the 2016 edition of the Locarno Film Festival. The Swiss fest is an essential stop on the film calendar for cinephiles, showcasing a selection of titles on the more obscure, innovative end of the summer festival spectrum. This year will host 17 premieres competing for the top prize, the Golden Leopard, in the Concorzo Internazionale, with gala screenings for films such as Jason Bourne, The Girl with All the Gifts and Ken Loach's Palme d'Or winner I, Daniel Blake. Locarno 2016 runs from the 3rd to the 13th of August; Arturo Ripstein chairs the Concorso Internazionale jury, and Dario Argento the Concorso Cineasti del Presente jury. For the full lineup, which features details on the programmes for all 12 of the festival's strands, check out its official website.

Concorso Internazionale
Al Ma' wal Khodra wal Wajh el Hassan (Yousry Nasrallah)
Bangkok Nites (Tomita Katsuya)
Correspondencias (Rita Azevedo Gomes)
Dao Khanong (Anocha Suwichakornpong)
The Dreamlike Path (Angela Schanelec)
Godless (Ralitza Petrova)
Hermia & Helena (Matias Pineiro)
The Idea of a Lake (Milagros Mumenthaler)
Jeunesse (Julien Samani)
Maria (Michael Koch)
Mister Universo (Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel)
The Ornithologist (Joao Pedro Rodrigues)
Ostatnia Rodzina (Jan P. Matuszynski)
La Prunelle de Mes Yeux (Axelle Ropert)
Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude)
Slava (Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov)
Wet Woman in the Wind (Shiota Akihito)

Piazza Grande
Cessez-le-Feu (Emmanuel Courcol)
La Ciel Attendra (Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar)
Comboio de Sal e Acucar (Licinio Azevedo)
Dans la Forest (Gilles Marchand)
The Day It Rained (Gerd Oswald)
Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
The Girl with All the Gifts (Colm McCarthy)
Gotthard (Urs Egger)
I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)
Interchange (Dain Iskandar Said)
Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass)
Mohenjo Daro (Ashutosh Gowariker)
Moka (Frederic Mermoud)
Paula (Christian Schwochow)
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (Maria Schrader)
Teo-Neol (Kim Seong Hun)
They Call Me Trinity (Enzo Barboni)
Vincent (Christophe van Rompaey)

Concorso Cineasti del Presente
Afterlove (Stergios Paschos)
Akhdar Yabes (Mohammed Hammad)
El Auge del Humano (Eduardo Williams)
The Challenge (Yuri Ancarani)
Destruction Babies (Mariko Tetsuya)
Donald Cried (Kris Avedisian)
El Futuro Perfecto (Nele Wohlatz)
Gorge Coeur Ventre (Maud Alpi)
I Had Nowhere to Go (Douglas Gordon)
L'Indomptee (Caroline Deruas)
Istirahatlah Kata-Kata (Yosep Anggi Noen)
Manana a Esta Hora (Lina Rodriguez)
Il Nido (Klaudia Reynicke)
Pescatori di Corpi (Michele Pennetta)
Viejo Calavera (Kiro Russo)

Friday, 15 July 2016

REVIEW - GHOSTBUSTERS (PAUL FEIG)


Sorry, haters. Ghostbusters is, at its best, every bit as good as a Paul Feig film and, at its worst, every bit as bad as a Paul Feig film. You'll forgive it (if you're not a bigot) most of its missteps in light of its own ability to do so, to skip past them with brazen confidence, a gleeful middle finger to the misogynists. Feig has not found a way to weld his trademark loose, lighthearted comedy to the strict requirements of the action tentpole model - an undeniable disappointment after the relative success of his last film, Spy. But this is of little consequence, as most everything that doesn't work about Ghostbusters is. Those throughlines that hold the film together exist virtually for that reason alone, with the real substance to be derived from its comedic content; sporadic running gags, ephemeral one-liners, a general jolliness that helps to make even the clunkier quips affable. Any comedy can get by as long as its jokes actually work - even get by those jokes that don't work - and Ghostbusters fits that formula quite nicely. Yet its success in this regard is almost something of a surprise: at times, it feels there's barely any substance other than its comedic content. The film is a frustrating structural mess, with individual scenes and larger sequences arranged haphazardly, both directed and edited as though to simply put something, anything up on the screen. Feig again seems to be operating on the assumption that his cast will save the day, as indeed they are relied upon to do, and reliably oblige. A particular standout is Leslie Jones, a relaxed, engaging, natural comic talent who shines even in an ensemble of capable comedians. But Ghostbusters' piece de resistance is its callous provocation of the trolls and the naysayers, finding means both essential and extraneous with which to rub their noses in their own nonsense. Sorry, haters: the ladies are having the last laugh.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

TRAILER #1 FOR A MONSTER CALLS


Odd to think that this is only Juan Antonio Bayona's third feature - following The Impossible and his remarkable debut The Orphanage. A Monster Calls may seek to strike a chord with audiences similarly to Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth ten years ago; its trailer promises a potent blend of vivid imagery and emotions alike. The crew includes Eugenio Caballero on production design, Oscar Faura on cinematography and Fernando Velazquez on score, ensuring that my hopes are kept high. Out in the US on the 21st of October, in time for Hallowe'en, and in the UK on the 6th of January... an awards-consideration release strategy?

REVIEW - THE WAILING (NA HONG JIN)


What good is fantasy if it is not rooted in reality? After all, those most potent fantasies, those dreamt up in daydreams, are rooted in the reality of the human experience, ever tethered to the universe as we perceive it. The Wailing thus anchors its absurdities in a world quite unknown to the vast majority of viewers - a rural valley in South Korea - yet wholly knowable. It's a world of banal concerns and trivialities, intruded upon by unthinkable terrors; The Wailing is a work of comedy and tragedy alike, action thriller, psychological thriller, dramatic thriller - always thrilling. Na Hong Jin devises supernatural scares, unnatural occurrences, presented as natural. The film is thus insidiously frightening, imprinting images whose impact is not extended, rather it is delayed - Na is an unusually straightforward stylist, and eschews showiness in favour of an economical, narrative-centred approach to storytelling. The result is a film that doesn't assault you but coaxes you, lures you in. There's seduction to its suggestions, always kept tantalizingly at bay by scepticism that is entirely encouraged; there's subtle power to its sights and sounds, a power that doesn't assert itself on first viewing, as one focuses on taking it all in. Instead, it builds in the memory over time, accumulating chilling strength as the horrible heft of Na's narrative conceit only settles further, refusing to subside. Accordingly, The Wailing comes not to a frenzied crescendo but to an eerie diminuendo, its outlook narrowing, its editing slowing (amid an outstanding cross-cut sequence), its soundtrack softening, its terror intensifying. Aided by a fine sound mix and a selection of magnificent performances from his cast, Na has made a most singular, successful horror movie.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

OFFICIAL TRAILER FOR JEFF NICHOLS' LOVING


Jeff Nichols' Loving is in an undeniably tricky position as a potential Oscar contender, as which is had been hailed months in anticipation of first being seen - at Cannes, critics claimed it was too 'Oscar-y' for the festival, and now critics claim it's not 'Oscar-y' enough. But reviews from Cannes were generally strong, and the buzz remains, unlikely to be dampened by this promising trailer. Out in the US on the 4th of November and in the UK on the 3rd of February, and if that isn't the most 'Oscar-y' release strategy you'll see this year...

REVIEW - THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (DAVID YATES)


The weight of expectation bears down upon The Legend of Tarzan, a film that seems all too aware of what kind of film it's expected to be, and not nearly aware enough of what kind of film it ought to be. It feels scrappily pieced together at every stage in its production process, from the scattershot character development to the various muddled thematic thrusts to the glaring continuity errors. If none of this is quite fatal for the film in itself, and if David Yates is altogether too solid a director to oversee anything so disastrous, the cumulative effect of the lack of focus and insight into precisely what is intended of this product at least soddens this ship, though never sinking it. Alexander Skarsgard is an intriguing Tarzan, though not sufficiently magnetic; the film generally appears indifferent to this character, a legendary one indeed, yet his questionable presence as the obligatory white saviour still sours the narrative. Efforts are made to overcome this distasteful quality, though we're ever cognizant of the fact that such efforts are entirely necessary in this context, and not entirely effective. Margot Robbie is Jane, whose portrayal involves half-hearted attempts at modernization whose timidity only helps to highlight how regressive The Legend of Tarzan actually is. Christoph Waltz is the bad guy, and thus you'll likely forgive him for phoning it in; there's one rather rotten reference to his sexuality that the film wisely (or unwisely?) brushes swiftly past. Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson. Djimon Hounsou is 52 and looks better than I ever have or ever will. ngl, I would let Djimon Hounsou do literally anything to me and I wouldn't even press charges.

Monday, 11 July 2016

REVIEW - TRAPPED (DAWN PORTER)


Nothing too dramatic, no attention-seeking, no embellishments. Nothing but the truth. Dawn Porter's Trapped is thus perhaps more similar in tone and content to an extended, and especially empathetic, piece of investigative journalism than it is to many other movies - nothing new either, then. Porter's film is an argument, or one side of an argument, the only side worth sitting on yet far more often trampled on. This smart and sensitive filmmaker could do with sharpening up her arguing skills, though, but her intelligence and the film's effectiveness are never called into question. Centring on the battle to uphold both the legal and moral rights to abortion, rights which the U.S. legislature is determined to erode altogether, Trapped takes a perspective that's commonly ignored in the struggle: that of the professionals whose job it is to provide this essential care for frequently desperate women. Both showing and telling, Porter's approach is thorough, her subjects are engaging, their stories compelling. If the message of her film is obviously apparent to all inclined to receive it, Porter nevertheless overlooks its crux, in spite of her general attentiveness in other regards - little mention is made of the innate misogyny in the Pro-Life campaign, nor the innate sense in the Pro-Choice campaign. It's possible that Porter considered these points simply so self-evident as to be moot, but observe the remarkable lack of sense and sensitivity both in the American religious right, and the scrupulousness of other areas of this film, and it seems an oversight. Likewise, the blatant support shown by natural law. But maybe these were disregarded as embellishments. After all, the best way to make an argument is to stick to the point. And that, Trapped does. It's nothing but the truth, and nothing short of essential as a result.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

TRAILER FOR DIEGO LUNA'S MR. PIG WITH DANNY GLOVER


Very much enjoyed this trailer for Diego Luna's new directorial project, Mr. Pig. The comedy, which premiered in January at Sundance, stars Danny Glover in what might be his best role in years, alongside Maya Rudolph. No release dates have yet been confirmed, but keep your eyes peeled. This looks promising.

Friday, 8 July 2016

REVIEW - NOBODY WANTS THE NIGHT (ISABEL COIXET)


Somewhere within Isabel Coixet's Nobody Wants the Night lies a work of brilliance; somewhere within it lies a work of utter trash. It's a film of opportunities grasped, missed and carelessly snatched at, taking in whatever trails of quality it can. Watching it, one is engaged, baffled, moved, underwhelmed, intrigued, bored, impressed and outraged; most curious of all is that a film so fascinating in its failures and so admirable in its successes is yet so roundly mediocre in its final effect. Recalling films of similarly varying standards, provoking mixed responses in the viewer, how odd that Nobody Wants the Night should exist in such a state and yet provoke little more, and indeed little less, than apathy overall. It barely comes together in one's mind since it functions only slightly in its intentions (or in what we can make of its intentions) - too shallow and lyrical for a philosophical inquiry or character piece, yet too cheap and cloistered for a grand epic drama. The extreme North setting is quite enchanting, in a strangely scary kind of manner, though Coixet's focus is drawn inward, out of the cold and into her protagonists' fragile enclosure; she develops a palpable intensity of emotion between these two curious characters, not least due to committed performances from Juliette Binoche and Kikuchi Rinko (alas, another example of racial miscasting). Yet the film's positive attributes are near-consistently undercut by filmmaking incompetence at seemingly every stage in the production process, begetting a film that never properly connects with the viewer, so uncertain is it of precisely the kind of film it ought to be. A serious case of smoothing out was required in order to turn Nobody Wants the Night into that kind of film, whether that be brilliance or utter trash. As it is, it's a bit of both.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

REVIEW - ON FOOTBALL (SERGIO OKSMAN)


A game I've never loved streams through On Football, ever present though rarely truly seen. Sergio Oksman's attention is on another subject, his father, in an extended gesture of loving curiosity that reveals as much about its maker as it does about said subject. A relationship they've never truly known emerges anew, uncovered for us in its filmmaker's quiet inquisitiveness, for this filmmaker in exchanges to which we are only permitted intermittent access. Poignancy abounds, particularly in retrospect, while profundity seems to remain at bay - On Football is very much life as it is lived, rather than as we might want to live it, and its banality amid these life-altering, even world-altering, events is a smart reflection of reality that nevertheless refuses this film the ability to attain the dramatic heft it seeks. Oksman makes his points, but is too hasty to make them as deeply felt as they ought to be. As he cuts from one scene of mundanity to the next, always with at least the notion of football somewhere in the setting, even if only lingering over it, his artistic impulses become quite clear. They're not especially different from those of many other filmmakers, and Oksman needs to cultivate something more substantial - perhaps a fuller emotional depth - to allow On Football to distinguish itself. A game I've never loved features prolifically, if not prominently, in a film I wish I could love. Ever at arm's length, this is an innately intriguing documentary, but one fuelled on intrigue alone.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

REVIEW - THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (YARROW CHENEY AND CHRIS RENAUD)


American animation by the numbers. Certainly, hasn't the genre always been that way? But there's a lack of ambition in The Secret Life of Pets that betrays its unfortunate adherence to formula, its identity as a product merely of our times and not for our times, and its contentment with that. It's a cash-grab, made by people who likely know better, as evidenced by the simple fact that The Secret Life of Pets isn't a complete failure. It's intermittently funny, never intelligent, spoilt by ugly design though elevated by excellent application of Illumination Entertainment's animation skills. It remains a major disappointment to me, witnessing such superb technique wasted on such average visual concepts. To dismiss this as 'what the kids want' might seem appropriate, but it overlooks a sad, significant point: this is what the adults want too. People are stupid, and want stupid things; The Secret Life of Pets is a rather stupid thing tailor-made for a stupid audience. It's no less than adequate at any particular juncture, though given the amount of time, effort and money obviously poured into this project, adequacy alone becomes inadequate, and the more discerning viewer pines for something more substantial. If all that Illumination has ever before offered in that regard is mere sporadic inspiration on the comic front, surely it's not unreasonable to request it of them again? But this Toy Story rip-off only rarely hints at stepping up to answer this request, content instead to roll ever onward from one mediocre moment to another.